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Ralph D. Albertazzie's estate sale "unique because of who he was"

November 19, 2011|By RICHARD F. BELISLE | richardb@herald-mail.com
  • David Crosby, son-in-law of Ralph D. Albertazzie, stands next to a photo of seven pilots who flew Air Force One that was on the auction block Saturday at Albertazzie's estate sale. Albertazzie, who died Aug. 15 at the age of 88, is in the middle of the photo.
By Richard F. Belisle

FALLING WATERS, W.Va. — A Sept. 18, 1997, copy of Andrews (AFB) Field News was among dozens of newspapers, magazines, clippings and other memorabilia sold Saturday at Ralph D. Albertazzie's estate sale.

Albertazzie, who flew Air Force One more than 275,000 miles during Richard Nixon's 5 1/2-year presidency, died Aug. 15 at the age of 88.

In an interview in the 1997 Andrews Field News, Albertazzie recounted a conversation with Nixon on Aug. 9, 1974, the day he resigned the presidency. Albertazzie was flying Nixon home for the last time.

"We've traveled so many miles together, you and I — I'm sorry to see it end this way," Nixon was quoted by Albertazzie. "I promised you before I left office I would make you a general, but like so many things I'll have to leave undone — I'm sorry."

An official White House photograph among the sale lots showed an earlier event in which Nixon pinned a colonel insignia on Albertazzie.

Albertazzie retired from the Air Force in December 1974 after 30 years of service that began in World War II and was followed by missions in Korea and Vietnam. During his Air Force One career, he flew Gerald Ford, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Lyndon Johnson while they were in the White House and former presidents Herbert Hoover and Harry Truman.

"This is not my biggest sale of the year, but it's the most unique because of who he was," auctioneer Darwin Plumlee said.

"There's a lot of Air Force One memorabilia, a lot of autographed photographs like one Lyndon Johnson gave to Albertazzie," he said. "The first thing I sold this morning was his flight suit. It brought $350. People like to collect these things."

The hundreds of lots on the block included collectible glassware, household goods, paintings, military- and White House-inscribed memorabilia, prints of official White House photographs, Henkel-Harris furniture, lawn and garden tools, and boxes of small stuff on the lawn.

The White House photos showed Nixon with heads of state. One standout was a photo of Nixon and Leonid Brezhnev, their hands on a globe, taken during Nixon's first trip to the Soviet Union in 1972. Another showed Pat Nixon, Henry Kissinger, Richard Nixon and then-Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir sitting in the White House. Lowell Thomas gave an autographed photo of himself to Albertazzie.

Nixon gave Albertazzie an inscribed commemorative silver plate marking the president's historic 1971 visit to China.

There were photos of Albertazzie in and around Air Force One, including a large one of him surrounded by the six pilots who flew presidents from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Nixon.

One lot that Plumlee felt would draw bidder interest was a gold Zippo cigarette lighter signed by Nixon that the auctioneer touted as one of a kind. It sold for $675.

Catherine M. Murphy, Albertazzie's granddaughter, and David Crosby, his son-in-law, represented the family at the sale.

"This is a difficult time seeing all Ralph's things being sold on the back lawn," Crosby said. "It was particularly difficult yesterday when the house was sold."

"He was a great father and great grandfather," Murphy said.

She said she recently spoke with Kissinger.

"He was very complimentary of my grandfather and offered his condolences," she said. "It's a nice memory."

Albertazzie flew Kissinger to China before Nixon and flew him to the secret meetings in Paris for the Vietnam War peace talks.

Nearly 190 bidders had picked up numbers by 1 p.m.

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